since 1997, the world's premier FREE website for learners + teachers of English

The and 'a'

Questions from teachers about English grammar and usage

Moderator: Susan

Posts: 1
Joined: Sun Feb 28, 2016 3:10 pm
Status: Trainee Teacher

The and 'a'

Unread postby TonyYeboah » Sun Feb 28, 2016 3:23 pm


I am currently doing teacher practice with an ESOL class and had a few grammar questions if anyone can help. Firstly I have to teach a lesson with the following question: 'why does one speaker say 'the' greengrocers and the other 'a' greengrocers?' From the statements below:

(A) I'm going to the greengrocer's. Do you want anytjing?

(B) Excuse me, is there a greengrocer's near here?

I'm new to teaching English, and although i have a working definition in my head, i'd like to explain it simply but also with grammitical terminology. Also, i'm wondering exactly why we use 'a' and 'an', my understanding is that we use an before a word that begins with a vowel, such as apple, and a before everything else, although i'm not sure why, or if this is the exact reason. Any help would be very much appreaciated.

Thank you

User avatar
Posts: 133
Joined: Mon May 09, 2005 5:35 pm
Location: England

Re: The and 'a'

Unread postby Susan » Mon Feb 29, 2016 7:40 pm

Hi Tony,

A: the 2 people having the conversation both know which greengrocer's is being discussed.

B: the greengrocer's is unknown to the person asking the question. (S)he is asking generally about that type of shop.

A is used before vowels, you're right there. Except words such as uniform; the u is not pronounced the same as the u in umbrella.


User avatar
Prolific Member
Prolific Member
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Feb 08, 2014 10:28 am
Status: Teacher

Re: The and 'a'

Unread postby cerealkillah » Tue Mar 01, 2016 10:58 pm

I agree with Susan but I would say that the word "uniform" is no exception to the rule. Since we are talking about vowels (preceded by an) and consonants (a) it is the sound that matters, not the initial letter. We have to think in terms of pronunciation. Another 'unusual' examples:
an hour, an honest man, a year, a yellow cab.

Prolific Member
Prolific Member
Posts: 28
Joined: Tue Feb 28, 2017 9:47 am
Status: Other
Location: London

Re: The and 'a'

Unread postby LeesaJohnson » Tue Mar 14, 2017 6:59 am

English has two articles definite (The) and indefinite(a/an). A and An are indefinite articles and are used when referring to something the first time. The is the definite article and is used to refer to specific objects.

Return to “Grammar and Usage”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest